RICHMOND, Va. - Michael Vick was sentenced to prison yesterday for running a dogfighting operation and will stay there longer than two codefendants, up to 23 months, because he lied about his involvement when he was supposed to be coming clean to the judge who would decide his fate.
Sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, the disgraced Atlanta Falcons star received a longer sentence than the others in the federal conspiracy case because of "less than truthful" statements about killing pit bulls.
Vick, 27, said he accepted responsibility for his actions, but Hudson said he wasn't so sure.
"I'm not convinced you've fully accepted responsibility," he told Vick, who arrived in court wearing the black-and-white striped prison uniform he was issued when he surrendered Nov. 19 to begin serving his sentence early.
Despite the early surrender, a public apology, and participation in an animal-sensitivity training course, Vick was denied an "acceptance of responsibility" credit that would have reduced his sentence. Federal prosecutors opposed giving Vick the credit.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to two years. Two of his codefendants were sentenced Nov. 30: Purnell Peace to 18 months, Quanis Phillips to 21. The third, Tony Taylor, will be sentenced Friday.
Dogs that did not perform up to expectations were killed by electrocution, hanging, drowning and other violent means by the dogfighting ring. Hudson said evidence, including statements by the codefendants, showed Vick was more directly involved than he admitted.
Hudson also mentioned that Vick had been deceptive on a polygraph test. Though that evidence was not admissible in court, the results were discussed.
"He did more than fund it," prosecutor Michael Gill said, referring to the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting operation. "He was in this thing up to his neck with the other defendants."
The judge agreed.
"You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," he said.
Flanked by two defense attorneys, the quarterback spoke softly as he acknowledged using "poor judgment" and added, "I'm willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions."
Vick apologized to the court and his family members, who along with other supporters occupied most of two rows in the packed courtroom.
"You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you," Hudson said sternly.
"Yes, sir," Vick answered.
Although there is no parole in the federal system, with time off for good behavior, Vick could be released in the summer of 2009.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called the sentencing another step in Vick's "legal journey."
"This is a difficult day for Michael's family and for a lot of us, including many of our players and fans who have been emotionally invested in Michael over the years," Blank said.
Vick was suspended without pay by the NFL and lost all of his lucrative endorsement deals. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked after yesterday's sentencing if Vick should play again.
"That's a determination we'll make later on," Goodell told the Associated Press. "As I said earlier when we suspended him indefinitely, we would evaluate that when the legal process was closed."
On its Web site Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated that Vick has incurred financial losses of $142 million, including $71 million in Falcons salary, $50 million in endorsement income, and nearly $20 million in previously paid bonuses.
Vick has been held at a jail in Warsaw, Va., since voluntarily beginning his term. The location of his federal prison has not been determined.
Vick and his three codefendants also are facing animal cruelty charges in Surry County Circuit Court. Vick's trial has been set for April 2.